A Kodiak, Alaska man got too close for comfort with a bear while walking a friend’s dog in his hometown, but because he properly reacted to the situation, he only got a bite to the foot from a curious brown bear in a situation that had the potential to turn very grisly.
There are a number of recommended reactions depending on the circumstances of a bear encounter. In some cases, you should attack back if the bear is attacking you, sometimes walking away while calmly facing the bear is the best. Although most people have likely been taught to just play dead in school, this is really only ideal when both you and the bear are startled by a sudden close encounter.
The man, whose identity has not been released, had just such an encounter with the bear. As he was walking his friend’s dog last Tuesday, he turned a corner and spotted a sow and two cubs only 20 feet ahead of him.
Here, it’s difficult to assess the best route of action. Should he have walked away or immediately began to play dead? Chris Servheen, Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, recommends playing dead in surprise encounter situations when neither of you detects one another’s presence until you are a few feet away. The wind was blowing that day, reducing the chances of the man being sniffed out by the bear well before the encounter. But the Kodiak man had an added element to worry about: the curious and then later fiercely barking dog, who compounded his problems.
“It sounded like initially the bear started going the other direction, but the dog decided it wanted to sniff the cubs, and the mama bear didn’t think that was something that she wanted to happen,” Larry Van Daele, regional wildlife supervisor for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, told the Kodiak Daily Mirror, as reported by the Associated Press.
The dog ran back and began its incessant barking, the man rolled up into a ball to play dead and the bear came to investigate the man. It sniffed him, pulled him by his foot a little bit, sniffed his head, then bit his foot before it finally ran off. The man eventually gathered himself and the dog after the bears made off and went home, virtually uninjured, but surely shaken.
“We all feel this was a surprise encounter and the bear acted defensively,” Van Daele said. “If she would have charged him aggressively and if it had been a more severe mauling, then we would consider it one that crossed the line. All things considered it sounds like she did the right thing and he did the right thing, and they lived to tell about it.”
Bears that pose a risk to humans are typically eliminated, but it will be spared since it was acting defensively and because it will likely hunker down for the winter soon and no longer pose a danger to humans, as least for the season.